breath, bone, and soul

After, when frantic relief has given away to silence and his skin is almost warm to the touch and slick with sweat, Gwendolyn presses her palm to his chest, fingers spread wide as they can go, and counts the heartbeats against her palm. They come slowly, even now, and the flush is beginning to fade from his skin.

Oswald lets out a slow breath, then covers her hand with his. His fingers are already cold. “I’m all right,” he says. “My wounds are nearly healed.” Continue reading

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the fairytale’s gone into hiding

They land in a desert world that has both of the children bright-eyed and excited; the princess still doesn’t remember much, but her entire body seems to relax into the punishing heat, and there’s a healthy flush to her white cheeks. When Fay himself wilts and retreats to hide inside, she lingers on the veranda of their borrowed rooms and turns her pretty little face to the sun. Wrapped in loose gauzy white, she looks like a creature of air and spirit, so light that she might drift away on the next strong wind. Fay watches her through the windows as dusk falls and he’s able to emerge with the cooling day, watching the clean lines of her shoulders and tries to remember that she’s not real. She’s just as much of a construct as Chii: a copied mind and a copied body, going through the automatic motions of life because she knows no better.

She’s just a copy, but he’s sworn to keep her safe until her creator calls her home. The hot weather makes her eyes sparkle and she has enough of her feathers back to shake off her initial doll-like lethargy; she smiles for all of them and pushes herself hard to stay awake.

Fay watches her spread her arms to the sky like she could embrace the dusk close as a lover, and falls just a little in love. He can’t help it, really: royalty has always been his weakness. Continue reading

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Taming the Wild Teito

The trick to earning a wild animal’s trust is patience, and lots of it. Loud noises and sudden movements will only frighten it off: you have to let it grow accustomed to your presence, bit by bit, and eventually it might allow to let you approach it. Enough time, and it might even deign to let you pet it — but it will never be completely yours. Even if you bring it home and it grows old and fat in your care, there will always be something forever beyond your reach. Continue reading

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For Want Of

Moonlight bleaches Seimei’s skin pale and highlights the all the sharp lines and angles of his narrow face, till it makes the throat ache to see him. This is about the best that Seiryuu can really come up with — he is a warrior, not a scholar, and he has little patience for such things.

And yet, there is Seimei, with his sharp vulpine features and easy laughter, who faced down even Touda without breaking a sweat. Nothing is delicate or fragile about Seimei, even if he is human and so inherently weaker than Seiryuu and the rest of the Shinshou: there a steel in him that not even Touda’s fires can warp or melt. There is Seimei, to whom all the princesses of the royal court watch with covetous eyes — in a change from his childhood (Seimei says, with amusement in his eyes and voice), the rumors of his parentage make him an appealing match for a young woman searching for a husband. All of them disgust Seiryuu: their beauty is watery and weak, and there is no strength in their fluttering white hands. None of them are worthy of the smiles that Seimei favors them with, let alone his attention; if a son is what he wants, then let him take Tenkou to bed, or Kouchin, or even Tenitsu — Suzaku might protest, but Seimei is their masterContinue reading

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Trading Farewells

There is a man who walks by the church every day, precisely at two o’clock in the afternoon. No matter what the weather, he always come by, dressed impeccably all in black: someone’s butler, perhaps, striding off with purpose. He never looks at the church, but he walks like he is deliberately ignoring it.

Behind him, shadows trail long and wide, like the flaring of wings. Continue reading

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The Memory of the Father

He remembers the father.

Like a sore tooth — like an old injury — he remembers, and keeps those old memories close. They’re reminders of the pieces of himself he found unnecessary and excised, and now he can look back on that man and laugh. Once upon a time I was stupid, he says; once upon a time, I was idealistic and full of wide-eyed belief.

Then the world happened. He grew up. Continue reading

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There’s No Such Thing As Coincidences

The east wind brought in the smell of rain and wet leaves, despite the hot clear blue of the summer sky. Watanuki paused in his sweeping to shade his eyes, looking into the distance, but there was nothing but heat visibly shimmering from the low-set rooftops.

“Watanuki,” Yuuko said from the porch. She lay sprawled in the shadows, long bare limbs and her white stomach exposed in the gap between her bikini top and low-slung shorts. She had one arm over her eyes and a glass of melting ice-cubes in her other hand. “Leave the gate open.” Continue reading

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No Small Thing

(Pay attention. Breathe.)

“The rules are simple,” says the smiling man. He holds up the collar and turns it, showing them where it fastens shut and where the chain hooks in. “The master gives commands. Strength of will determines whether the move can be made.” He pretends to consider, pursing his lips briefly before smiling again. Under that friendly veneer lies something akin to a threat. “Both the will of the master and the piece must be resolute, and in absolute sync.”

(In. Out. There is a feather in this world, and they have to find it. Otherwise, Sakura will–) Continue reading

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by thorn uncut

“You’re not serious,” Fay protests. He leans into the mirror, so that they’re cheek-to-cheek, and for maybe the first time in their lives, the reflection is different. “Uncle will be furious, you know that.”

“But Uncle isn’t coming tonight,” Yuui points out sweetly. He pouts at the mirror and carefully applies paint to his lips, the way he’s seen their mother do. “He’s off on another one of his little war campaigns. This is our party, and he doesn’t even have to know.” He kisses the air a few times, testing, then sets the paint-pot aside. Without looking away from the mirror, he slides his arms around his twin’s neck in a loose half-hug. “It’ll be fine. Think of it as a joke, Fay! It’ll be wonderful!” Continue reading

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as it often goes

It took approximately three laps around the estate with lullabies low in Masahiro’s throat the entire time before Kohime finally fell asleep. Even then, he continued humming as he carried her back to his own room and lay her gingerly down. To his relief, his young niece didn’t even stir beyond the butterfly-soft flutter of her breathing. He pulled the blanket up loosely around her, then sat back with a sigh, rolling his shoulders to try and work out the stiffness that came from accomodating the toddler’s weight for so long.

From the corner of the room, curled in a snug ball, Mokkun lifted his head and yawned. “Oi, oi,” he said, and got to his feet. “Don’t tell me that’s enough to tire you out, Seimei’s grandson.” Continue reading

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What Hates You (Will Someday Kill You)

There is a hall of the Minamoto estate that is filled, one end to the other, with the stuffed preserved bodies of youkai in their natural forms. Here there is a dragon with its jaws spread wide; there is a rokurokubi whose neck stretches the entire length of the hall; there’s a delicate sphere of amber with a tiny winged spirit trapped inside. There’s a crane spreading her wings as a fine kimono slides from her shoulders; there is a nue who lifts her head under a kappa’s outstretched arm. All of them are very fine trophies, put together with grace and care: the sword-marks that killed them have been stitched back together and carefully hidden from sight. They look alive, each and every one.

There is a parlor in the Minamoto estate as well, one fashioned after the sitting-rooms so popular in the west, though decorated with a delicate — and undeniably Japanese — eye and hand. It connects off the hallway of youkai, so Kantarou can move easily from one to the other. Continue reading

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The List Starts From Here

The good:

One, there was no loss of strength in his grip or his arm in general. He could still swing a sword with the same deliberate strength as before. Amaterasu herself had complimented him after a sparring match. A lesser man might have gloated or worse; Kurogane had instead just slung the practice blade across his shoulders and grinned till his face ached. Continue reading

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Dance (Shall We?)

The first mistake the professor makes is in pairing them up. She looks at him and curls her lip in disgust, and there is a tight pressure in his chest that makes it near-impossible to breathe. He doesn’t remember the professor’s words — they wash over him and fade to white noise before he really registers him. She puts her hand in his, small and cool to the touch, and it’s there, on the tip of his tongue to say it — I’ll cut off your claws before you can have him — and she hears it anyway. They stare at each other even after the music starts; it’s only when the professor’s voice rises, sharper than before, that they move. Continue reading

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(it’s) a kind of magic

“I never regretted it,” was all he’d say, years later. He would tuck his hands into his pockets, and if there was a window close by, he would turn to it and smile. “Not once.”

+++

Summer was a hot and sticky affair, one Suzuki Daisuke spent mostly sprawled across the floor, fanning himself, with his clothes as open as they could be and still remain decent. Those days he was all long skinny limbs, with bones jutting out under his sunburned skin, all of his energy sapped away by the rolling heat. Once his sister, annoyed by his laziness, had dropped a glassful of ice-water on him; when he’d gotten over the initial shock, the coolness had felt so good that he’d spent rest of the week pleading with her to do it again. It wasn’t until she’d threatened to do it with tea instead that he’d given up and gone back to his battered paper fan.

The nights weren’t much better than the days, the air heavy with humidity, the buzzing of cicadas giving way to the rasping of crickets. Sometimes, though, he liked to go outside after the sun had set, walking until the lights of his house were completely gone before turning around to feel his way back through the dark. If the moon was full and bright, he would go barefoot along the road with his sandals dangling from one hand, watching his feet on the gravel, one step after another. Continue reading

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at last laid bare

“Hey, Boma,” says Daisuke.

He turns his face so that his cheek is pressed against the wall instead of his nose. He can vaguely see the reflection of them in the metal: Boma’s dark head bent so close to his own. Just a few short steps away, the rest of Kabuki Road is abuzz with life, and the noise itself is like a cocoon, an extra layer of insulation between them and someone else. Boma’s timing has never been the best — he picks and chooses when to approach Daisuke without any sort of discernible pattern, sulking deliberately in the shadows until he’s noticed and called out. Continue reading

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